Back when I decided I wanted to become a writer, I added a “someday” to the end. As in, “I’m going to be a writer someday.” That was what I believed I was supposed to do, what was expected of me. Because no one first starting out writing was a writer. You had to do things first.
You had to have a manuscript, for instance. Or at least be working on one. And you had to have a blog and a “social networking presence”. You had to have followers and friends and readers. An agent. And, of course, a publishing contract.
To me, procuring that last one would be my golden ticket into the chocolate factory. To have a book out, to be published, would eliminate the need for that “someday” I kept adding. I wouldn’t need it anymore. I would be a writer. A real one.
Until that time (and if that time ever came, because I understood the odds), I considered myself merely a wannabe. And those thoughts didn’t change after I had a manuscript and a blog and a “social networking presence” because I saw the writing world as a segregated one. The ones who had books on Amazon and did interviews occupied the castles, and the rest of us were left to beg at the gate for any morsel of acceptance tossed our way. I would pass notes through that gate in the form of queries and proposals to any who ventured close enough, hoping against hope that one of them would pity me and bid me to pass. Theirs was the life I wanted, not my own.
It was tough looking through that gate and watching those published writers gorge on their dreams while I starved on my own.
Every so often someone on my side would be granted entrance. Those were always good times, hopeful times, because everyone left would believe their turn may be next. I would watch as those people crossed over and imagine they were me. Often they would each come close to the gate and talk to the rest of us on the other side. We’d hear amazing stories that would both fill us and leave us hungrier.
I had hope that if I hung around long enough—if I kept knocking—my turn would come. I was right about that. Talent can only get you so far in the publishing business. You have to persist. You have to always try once more.
For proof of that, the gate did open. I found on the other side my agent and she helped me find my publisher. Amazon and interviews followed. I thought I would be loosed then. Set free. I suppose in my mind I’d always considered being published akin to shedding my mortal coil in favor of a heavenly body.
That wasn’t true.
There are a lot of writers who change when they go from the land of wanting to be published to the land of author. They think they’ve become someone they’re not because they’re in a place few have been blessed to venture.
I’ve always promised myself that if I were fortunate enough to cross over, I’d stay close to the gate just to see you. Just so you would come close and I could talk to you and say this:
Writing is the most democratic form of expression I know. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you stand in this life, you have a story to tell. One that is just as important, just as needed, as anyone else’s. Being a real writer isn’t a matter of being published, it’s a matter of how you see yourself. It’s a matter of study and work and determination, not a contract.
I found that out.
There is no “someday”. You are a real writer the moment you put pen to page and soak it with your tears and sweat and dare to share yourself with the world. It is that supreme act of courage that gives your life meaning, not a piece of paper to sign and initial at the bottom.
That’s what I will tell you.
And I will tell you this as well—the world on this side of the gate isn’t that different from the world on the other. We strive in each to inspire and transport our reader.
That is our hope and our call.
Some friends of ours moved last week. Traded one set of blue mountains for a set of rocky ones. It’s something they’ve wanted to do for a while (he has family in Colorado, not twenty miles from their new home, and she grew up in nearby Boulder). Their move had less to do with the economy than a simple desire for a change of scenery. I nodded when they told me that, but I didn’t really understand. Who would want to leave rural Virginia?
I’ve known them for about fifteen years now. They’ve been to my home, I’ve been to theirs. We’ve shared meals and Christmas presents and birthday parties for our children. It’s a sad thing that in a world defined by hustle and bustle and there’s-always-something-going-on, few people slow down enough to make good friends. That’s what I’d call them—good friends.
But they’re gone now, a thousand miles westward. They will find new lives, and I will keep my old one.
Their leaving was a bit anti-climactic. That surprised me. I suppose deep down I knew what I had yet to consider, which was that they’d still be around. There’s the phone, of course. E-mail. Facebook and Twitter. Skype. No matter that two mountain ranges and a great big river separated us, they’d still be no more than a few button pushes away.
That’s when I realized how much the world has shrunk. Never mind that our technology has made it possible to cure disease and peer into the deepest reaches of the universe and know within moments what has happened in a tiny spot across the world. It has done something more profound than all of those things together.
It has lifted from us the heavy weight of ever having to say goodbye.
I’ve read stories of families separated during the Great Depression, of parents and children cleaved apart as some remained behind and others struck out for new territories and better hope. They had to say their goodbyes. Many were never heard from again. Can you imagine?
I remember looking around at my classmates during high school graduation and thinking that I’d never see or hear from most of them again. These were friends, many of whom I’d known since third grade. They’d shared my life, I’d shared theirs. Yet as I sat there I knew all of that was slipping away. I knew that to live was not about being born and dying later, it was to endure many births and suffer many deaths, and sometimes that birth and death happens in the same moment.
I was right. Twenty years later, I’ve not seen many of them. But more than one have friended me on Facebook, and from all over the world.
This should make me feel good, I guess. Aside from death, there are no farewells now. There is always “Talk to you soon” or “Shoot me an email” or “DM me.”
But I don’t feel particularly good. I think we’re missing out on something if we never have to say goodbye anymore. I think it robs us of the necessity of truly understanding the impact some people have on our lives, and the impact we have on the lives of others. To have to say goodbye is to know a part of you is leaving or staying, either scattered through the world or planted where you are.
I say this because just a bit ago, I received an email (plus pictures) from my friends. Things are well with them. They’re settling in and getting used to things. They’re happy. And that’s good.
But rather than casually shooting an email back, I think I’ll sit down and take my time. I think I’ll treat it as a farewell, even though it isn’t. I think I’ll tell them just how much I’ll miss them even though it’ll be as if we’re still just down the road from each other.
I figure somewhere deep down, they’ll need that goodbye. I know I do.
I stopped by the local bookstore over the weekend to speak with a friend and ask a favor—Would it be possible to schedule a book signing sometime in the next few months? We chatted a bit about the particulars and then he excused himself to fetch the store manager, leaving me alone at the front with a young lady working one of the cash registers.
“So you wrote a book?” she asked me.
“I did. Written four, actually.” I said.
“What’s your last one about?”
“It’s about four people and how three of them cope with the untimely death of the other one.”
She turned up her nose. “That doesn’t sound very uplifting.”
“Oh, it is,” I told her. “In the end, they all receive what they had hoped to find but never expected–Redemption.”
“So, it’s like a real book.”
“Sure is, pages and everything.”
The cashier muttered a “Huh” and left our conversation at that, turning to adjust her bookstore smock and straighten the stickpin near her collar. Life Is Short, Read Much! it said. My friend still wasn’t back with the manager, so I passed the next few minutes perusing the new releases on the table beside me.
“You just don’t look like a writer,” girl offered, eyeing me from my boots to my hat.
“I don’t?” I asked her.
“No, not really.”
“What’s a writer look like?”
“Well,” she said, “like…not you.”
“Ah,” I answered, nodding as if her definition had cleared that up just fine.
“We had a writer in here last month,” she said. “You could tell. She has glasses and short hair and was dressed all in black. And she used big words. Really big words. I couldn’t understand much of what she said.”
“My hair’s short and I my hat’s black,” I tried. But that wasn’t enough.
“Don’t get me wrong,” she said. “You look just fine. For a regular guy, anyway. But even if you dressed like a writer, you wouldn’t act like one.”
“How’s a writer supposed to act?”
“I want to be a writer one day,” she said. “But I don’t think I can ever act like one. I’m not that smart.”
I was about to say something, but just then my friend returned with the manager in tow. We worked out a tentative date and time, and he even offered free coffee for the occasion. Who says writing doesn’t have its own perks?
The cashier was gone when we were finished, her shift over for the day. That was a shame. I wouldn’t have minded spending a few more minutes with her, if only to explain why what she said was simply not so.
Because she was wrong, you know. Wrong about most everything she had said. I consider myself a guy who writes rather than a writer who’s a guy, for one. Big difference there. It means that if the bottom ever falls out or the well ever runs dry, I’ll still be me.
But more than that, she was wrong about how a writer is supposed to dress or act or talk. Very wrong.
There’s a grave misperception that writing must incorporate some sort of rules of eligibility.
You must have a college degree, some say. Or you have to be smart. You have to display a melancholic disposition or be a tortured soul. You have to be this old or this young.
Not so, I say.
True: not everyone can be a writer.
Also true: a writer can be anyone.
And that’s something important to keep in mind the next time someone says you can’t.
Though the homes in my neighborhood are equipped with modern necessities such as central air and electricity, it’s easy at times to think we sit on the border of unspoiled territory. Because for the most part, we do.
Across the road from my house sits about 30,000 acres of national forest, which is home to all manner of creepy crawlies. The boundary between civilized and not is clearly marked by a nearly straight line of neatly-kept backyards and a foreboding tree line of towering oaks.
Of course, neither man nor beast keeps to his own side. We all mingle with each other from time to time. Miles of trails leading into the mountains provide all a guy like me needs for feed his inner redneck. And as if to even things out a bit, everything from bear to deer to snakes to coyotes have been seen wandering our streets.
Most of us pay little mind to such intrusions, believing that the animals have just as much right to snoop around our homes as we have theirs. But there is one person in particular who is uneasy about the whole thing.
I speak of the kid down the road. Sixteenish and free for the summer. I remember the summer I turned sixteen, three glorious months of getting into more trouble than I’d ever gotten into in my life. Ask his father, and he’ll say he almost wishes his son would get into that same sort of trouble. Not a lot, mind you. But at least a little. After all, he’s sixteen. Trouble’s supposed to find you at that age.
But it hasn’t found him, mostly because he refuses to go outside. His days are spent staring out his bedroom window and writing about what he sees. He wants to write a book, he told his father. He’s serious about it. And while his father is supportive, he also knows it’s an excuse. His son doesn’t like his new home. Doesn’t like the small town or the big woods. He wants to go home to the city.
The family moved here from the city last year as the result of a job transfer. All this wildness suits mom and dad just fine, but not the boy. He woke up one morning in April to find a bear in the backyard. Found a snake on the deck a few weeks later. Though he refuses to admit it, they think it was all just a little too Wild Kingdom for him. So when school let out and he was free to do what he wanted, he retreated to the safety of the indoors.
He says he’s spending his time wisely. He’s writing. Working. There isn’t any time for much of anything else.
I heard about all of this the other night while out for an evening walk. His father was putting up a new mailbox, I stopped to say hello, and things just sort of went from there.
“He really is a good storyteller,” he told me. “Just wish he wouldn’t stay inside all the time. That can’t be healthy, can it?”
Not for a kid. And especially not for a writer.
There are a lot of would-be authors out there who think it’s fine to stare out of their window and write about the world. They take their journey within themselves because they’re unwilling or afraid to go out.
I can’t blame them for that. I was once the kid down the road, too.
Not afraid of bears and snakes, but afraid to go out the door. To face life in all its glory and pain. Give me a nice desk and some paper instead. Let life leave me alone so I could write about it.
Sounds a little strange, doesn’t it? But that’s what I thought. And that’s what a lot of authors think.
There is a learning curve to writing, of course. First come the simple words and simpler thoughts, which through countless hours of practice becomes better words and greater thoughts. No one denies this.
But there is another learning curve to writing that often goes overlooked, and that is the experience of living. Of plunging headlong into life and daring to swim in both the clear and the murky waters, and then using pen and paper as a towel to dry yourself off.
You have to hurt. And suffer. You have to love and hate and believe and doubt. You have to fail and succeed.
And the only way to do that is to go out and live before you come in to write.
I’m still hoping that one of these days I’ll learn not to turn on the news. There have been times—long periods in my life—when I’ve done without it to amazing results. The world reduces itself to the most basic elements when you are ignorant of what’s going on beyond your front door. Things don’t seem that bad.
But then I always go back eventually, checking the internet or the cable news once in the morning and then again in the evening. I tell myself there are too many ignorant people in the world to count myself among them, even if that ignorance really does contain a large portion of bliss. As an adult, I have a responsibility to know what’s going on. It’s a duty.
I’m sort of between the two right now. I know some of what’s going on out there, but not a lot. That’s how it is in the middle of writing a book. Getting those pages in every day takes precedent over much of anything else. I don’t have time to tune in, and so I tune out. I figure the world can carry on without me for this little while.
I finished up a little early the other day, though, and decided maybe I’d just take a few minutes to hope on a few websites. Not long, just a few minutes. Sort of like stepping outside to lick your finger and stick it in the air to see which way the wind was blowing. In the span of those few minutes, I learned that 200 girls had been kidnapped in Africa and threatened with being sold into sexual slavery. I learned that a young woman had won an award for filming her own abortion. I learned that climate change is now climate disruption and we’re all going to either drown or die of thirst, and if you happen to disagree with that notion you’re a Neanderthal. And then I shut my computer before I could learn anything else.
I sat there for a little bit, looking out the window on our little neighborhood. The window was open, letting in a bright sun and a breeze that smelled of blooming flowers and cut grass. A guy down the street was throwing a ball to his dog. Two kids next door were shooting hoops in the road. The retired couple who just moved in across the way were planting some rose bushes. It was a scene likely played out in thousands of neighborhoods in America right then, maybe yours, too, but its commonness in no way tarnished the beauty of it in my mind. That little scene I looked down upon, that was life. That was people trying to get by, trying to enjoy things despite it all.
The wind kicked up just for a moment, just enough to sneak through the big oak outside the window and ruffle the papers I’d just written on. They curled in on themselves and then went tumbling into a pile on the floor. I gathered them up and sat there on the carpet, trying to order the pages from memory, and a funny question crossed my mind:
Why are you doing this?
It took me a minute to figure out exactly what “this” was. I thought at first I was asking myself why I was sitting down on the floor with a stack of papers in my hand, but that didn’t sound right. Too obvious. And then I thought maybe the question was more about why I was sitting upstairs to begin with, and not outside enjoying the spring day. But that wasn’t it, either. No, it was more fundamental than either of those, something that struck me deep down where I most live.
The question was why I write at all.
The question was why bother.
Why spend so much time and suffer through so much stress to write books in a country where most people would rather turn on a television than read a chapter? Why go through the endless heartbreak of being a single shouting voice among the tens of thousands of other shouting voices? Why believe that in some small but significant way, what I do can pause a fallen world from its steady pace toward the edge of some great abyss?
And you know what? I’ll have to think about that and get back with you. Because right now, this moment, I really don’t know.
Let me tell you about Henry Darger, the man who wrote one of the most detailed and bizarre books in history.
Never heard of him? Me neither. At least, not until I happened to stumble upon his story a few weeks ago. Seems strange that someone who did something so grand could be so unknown, doesn’t it? But it’s true. In fact, you could even say that’s why Henry was so extraordinary.
He was a janitor. Nothing so special about that, but nothing so wrong with it, either. There is no correlation between who a person is and what that person does for a living. Einstein was a patent clerk. Faulkner a mailman. Henry Darger mopped floors.
An unassuming man. A quiet man. He never married, never really had friends. Just a regular guy living a regular life, one of the faceless masses that occupy so much of the world who are here for a short while and then gone forever.
Henry left in 1973.
There are no accounts of his funeral. I don’t know if anyone attended at all, though I like to think they did. I like to think there was a crowd huddled around his casket that day to bid him farewell.
It is an unfortunate fact of life that so many people are discovered to have been truly extraordinary only after their passing. Such was the case with Henry. A few days after his passing, his landlord went through his apartment to ready it for rent. What he found was astonishing.
What he found hidden among Henry’s possessions was a manuscript. Its title may give you a clue as to the story’s scope and magnitude:
THE STORY OF THE VIVIAN GIRLS, IN WHAT IS KNOWN AS THE REALMS OF THE UNREAL, OF THE GLANDECO-ANGELINIAN WAR STORM, CAUSED BY THE CHILD SLAVE REBELLION
Did you get that? If not, I can’t blame you. I had to read the title three times to even understand a little of it, and that doesn’t count the time I actually wrote it out.
The breadth and scope of Henry’s book went well beyond epic. The manuscript itself contained 15,000 pages. Over nine million words. Over 300 watercolor pictures coinciding with the story. Some of the illustrations were so large they measured ten feet wide.
A lifetime’s worth of work. Years upon years of solitary effort, hundreds of thousands of hours spent writing and painting, creating an entire saga of another world.
And all for no apparent reason. Not only did Henry Darger never seek any sort of publication for his work, he never told a soul about it. His book was his dream and his secret alone.
I’ve thought about Henry Darger a lot since I first read about him. Which, as change or fate would have it, just to happened to be the very week my newest novel released. A tough thing, that. You’d think it wouldn’t be, perhaps, but it is. No matter who an author is or how successful he or she may be or how many books or under his or her belt, the most important thing to us all is that our words matter. Matter to others, matter to the world. We want what we say and think and feel to count for something.
But Henry Darger reminds me that none of those things mean anything. In the end, we cannot account for how the world will judge our work, and so, in the end, the world’s opinion really doesn’t matter. Simple as that.
What matters—what counts—is that our words stir not the world, but ourselves. That they conjure in our own hearts and minds a kind of magic that neither the years nor the work can dull. The kind of magic that sustains us in our lonely times and gives our own private worlds meaning. The kind of magic that tinges even the life of a simple janitor with greatness.
I’ve written (and read) my share of blog posts about the craft of writing, but the following is by far my favorite. I’m reposting it today because I needed a reminder of why I do what I do. Maybe some of you do, too.
“I write in terror. I have to talk myself into bravery with every sentence, sometimes every syllable.”
I took exactly one class in writing. It was about fifteen years ago at the community college and was taught by a real published author whose name I cannot recall. But she was published, and as far as I was concerned that was all the credentials she needed.
The first class turned out to be the most useful. That’s not to say the instruction given in the proceeding eleven weeks of the course wasn’t useful. It was. But that first night alone was worth the money.
The twenty or so people in the class formed a semi-circle around the professor, who stood in behind a wooden podium that was much more intimidating than she. We sat at attention, notebooks ready, eager to have our heads filled with the hidden secrets of literary success.
“Tell me,” she said, “what does one need to write?”
The more outgoing among the class were quick with suggestions:
“Connections.” (That one was met with a nervous chuckle from the rest of the class.)
Each was met with an approving nod and so was written down by everyone, myself included. But that really wasn’t what she wanted to hear.
“Those are good suggestions,” she said, “but you’re leaving the most important aspect out. Anyone?”
“Courage,” she said.
I didn’t really understand that and snickered under my breath. Courage? Soldiers needed courage. Cops needed courage. EMTs and stunt men and bullfighters. But writers? Sitting on your butt and typing on a keyboard did not take courage.
“There are some who might disagree with that,” she said—and to this day I swear she looked at me when she said it—“and I understand. You disagree because you’re writing with your clothes on. By the time you leave here, you’ll be writing naked.”
I’ll admit I almost walked out then. I’d heard about kooky writing classes given by kooky professors who did some pretty strange things in the name of “art.” I was afraid if I stuck around I’d end up dressed in a blue tracksuit with a cup of Kool-Aid in my hand because a comet was passing by to take me to heaven.
I stayed in my seat on the whim she was speaking metaphorically.
“There is no greater fear than to face a blank page,” she said. “It mocks and threatens. It challenges you. Give it power, and it will eat you alive. Face it clothed, and you will fail. The only way to beat the blank page is to attack it naked.”
Twelve of the twenty students raised their hands.
“Wait, wait,” she said, moving her hands in a downward motion. “No, I’m not speaking literally. But I’m not joking, either. Let me ask you something else. Why do people write?”
More hands in the air, which she chose to ignore.
“People write because they must. Because there is a story inside them that is meant to be shared with the world. But having that story inside you doesn’t make you a writer. How you tell that story does. And you tell it through honesty.”
She told us to put our pens down and just listen.
“Writers fail because they come to the page fully clothed. They adorn themselves with fanciful plots and layer themselves with complicated character development. They use flowery prose and words you have to look up in the dictionary. They do this not to impress their readers, but to keep their readers at arm’s length. They’re afraid. Afraid to bare their souls and inject themselves into their work. For that they are cowards.
“Don’t simply tell me that faith saves you, tell me how it almost failed you, too. Don’t tell me about love, speak of your passion. Don’t tell me you’re hurt, let me see your heart breaking. I don’t want to see your talent on the page, I want to see your blood. Dare to be naked before your readers. Because that is writing, and everything else is worthless crap.”
I’ll always remember that. In fact, written on an index card taped to my lamp are these two words—Be Naked. Because she was right, that’s what writing is all about. Fiction or non, poetry or devotional, funny or serious, it doesn’t matter. Our calling is still the same:
To bare ourselves so we may be the mirror the world holds to itself.
* * * * * *
And thanks in no small part to my latest attempt at naked writing, Sylvia Shroades has won a brand new kindle fire in the Litfuse giveaway for The Devil Walks in Mattingly. Thanks to everyone for participating. Congratulations, Sylvia. Let that be the first book you download!
* * * * * *
The winner of last week’s signed book giveaway is Jennifer Essad. Congratulations to you, too Jennifer. I hope you enjoy it.
It’s been a whirlwind couple of weeks since The Devil Walks in Mattingly was officially released March 11. My sincere thanks for continuing to help get the word out.
Here’s some of what’s been going on in the past week:
Novel Crossing The Five Books That Changed My Life: Billy Coffey
Litfuse Group Get to know Billy Coffey
katdish.net The Revealing Billy Coffey Multiple Choice Interview
Relz Reviewz Character Spotlight: Meet Billy Coffey’s Jake and Taylor
Maureen Doallas at Writing without Paper Monday Muse: New Interview with Billy Coffey
Faith Village The Story Behind “The Devil Walks in Mattingly”
A Christian Writer’s World THE DEVIL WALKS IN MATTINGLY – Billy Coffey – On Free Book, Plus More (interview and book giveaway)
Novel Reviews Billy Coffey’s The Devil Walks in Mattingly Reviewed
Life is a Story The Devil Walks in Mattingly by Billy Coffey
Burton Book Review The Devil Walks in Mattingly by Billy Coffey
By the Book Book Review: The Devil Walks in Mattingly
Just Wondering A book review by Diana Trautwein
Electively Paige Spotlight: The Devil Walks in Mattingly
Regina’s Family Seasons The Devil Walks in Mattingly Book Review
5 Minutes for Books The Devil Walks in Mattingly
JoJo’s Corner Review and Giveaway
Savings in Seconds What’s the local haunt story in your neck of the woods?
Reviews from the Heart The Devil Walks in Mattingly
Goodreads Many great reviews by first time and long time visitors to the town of Mattingly.
Guest spots, Giveaways and other things worth mentioning
BookPage Editor’s Choice for Book of the Day
Fox News Opinion Page Regrets, remorse, and a boy named Ed
There’s still time to enter The Devil Walks in Mattingly Kindle Fire HDX giveaway.
One winner will receive:
- A Kindle Fire HDX
- The Devil Walks in Mattingly by Billy Coffey
Don’t miss a moment of the fun; enter today and be sure to stop by back here on April 7th to see if you won.
As promised last week, I’m giving away a signed copy of my book. Just leave me a comment below. I’ll draw an entry at random next Friday, April 4, 2014 and the winner will be notified via email.
Again, thanks so much for helping me get the word out about the book by sharing links via social media, reviews or just good old fashioned word of mouth. I’ve provided some links below:
Facebook Author Page: https://www.facebook.com/billycoffeywriter
Join the Launch Team: Devil Walks in Mattingly Launch Team
For the last three months my buddy Kirk has sequestered himself in a rented cabin deep in the Blue Ridge mountains. As far as I can tell, he took with him only the barest of essentials to complete his stated purpose—a dozen bags of deer jerky, four cases of MREs (that’s Meal, Ready to Eat for you non-military folks), three cases of beer, and two dozen protein bars. That should get him through, he says. If not, he’ll just go hunting.
Get him through for what, you ask? Well, now there’s a story.
Kirk is an old high school classmate and friend. Back then he was awkward and shy and always had his head in a book—three characteristics that guaranteed he’d have a tough time until after his senior year. But he sat in front of me in freshman English and, well, some friendships are born of compatibility and others location.
Even then Kirk wanted to be a writer. A published one. But as both his talent and his confidence were lacking, he always qualified “I want to be an author” with “Probably won’t, though.”
Like a lot of high school friends, Kirk and I lost contact after graduation. But then I ran into him at the mall three months ago.. Well, not him. Not the Kirk I knew. This was New and Improved Kirk, and version 2.0 was quite different.
He had found a cure for all that awkward shyness.
Kirk had become a Ranger in the U.S. Army.
Now that he was out, he was back to pursuing his goal of writing a book. And in the spirit of his down-and-dirty Ranger training, he was locking himself in a cabin in the middle of the wilderness to do it.
And you know what? I bet he will. I can almost guarantee it.
There were a lot of reasons why Kirk wasn’t ready to be a writer in high school. You have to grow some and learn some and fail some and hurt a lot first. But more than that, you have to be trained. Kirk told me he’d had his training now. He was a Ranger.
I’d never considered special forces training and training to be a writer to be one and the same, but he was adamant. They’re exactly alike, he said. Both are a process that tests you, then breaks you down, and then shows you whom you truly are.
But to Kirk, his Ranger training gave him one very big advantage—he’d been taught how to be comfortable in misery. He knew how to embrace the thirst and the hunger. How to endure the cold and the heat. And above all, he knew he was being readied for war and that war was hell, which is why his drill instructors trained him to, in his words, “Get the damn job done. Regardless.”
I think he’s onto something.
Because you can (and should) read all the books you can about the craft of writing. You can learn about plot and character and point of view, learn to kill your darling adverbs and adjectives, and speak in present instead passive voice. But until you learn to be comfortable in misery, you will not succeed. Ever.
There are times when sitting down to write is an invitation to pure bliss, when the words leap from your fingers virgin and perfect and you know without doubt they come from the very best part of you. Enjoy those times. They will be few.
Because for the most part, it’s just the opposite. The writing life is not bliss. It’s roaming through the desert of one submission after another, searching for whatever scrap of food or drip of water you can beg, borrow and steal in order to stay alive. It’s enduring the cold of having nothing to say and the heat of knowing you must write anyway.
And above all, writing is war.
It is a war fought not against agents and publishers, but against yourself. It is a war in which the enemy isn’t acceptance, it’s surrender. And yes, it is hell. No doubt about it. But you know what? A writer, a real one, wouldn’t have it any other way.
I haven’t seen Kirk since. For all I know, he’s still up in the mountains writing his book. I like to think he is. I like to think he’s pounding away at those keys and fighting his war.
That he’s getting the damn job done. Regardless.
I like to think that’s what you’re doing, too.
It’s been a great week (and did you hear the “Whew!” as I wrote that?). The Devil Walks in Mattingly is now officially released, and with it came a flurry of reviews, interviews, and about everything else you could imagine, all made better by good folks like you.
I’ll be doing a giveaway here next week. In the meantime, here’s a sneak peek at some of the things people have been saying:
Publishers Weekly Billy Coffey: Writing a Different Ending
Windows and Paper Walls The Devil Walks in Mattingly-Q&A with Billy Coffey
AndiLit(dot)com Write Naked: A Writers Writer Interview with Billy Coffey
Ordinarily Extraordinary The Devil Walks in Mattingly by Billy Coffey
Flickers of a Faithful FireFly Coffee with Billy Coffey and a Giveaway
Reviews from the Heart Sittin on the porch talking with Billy Coffey!
Publishers Weekly Fiction Book Review: The Devil Walks in Mattingly
The Christian Post Novel Considers the Destructive Nature of Secrets and Regret
Faith, Fiction, Friends “The Devil Walks in Mattingly” by Billy Coffey
Patheos via Karen Spears Zacharias The Devil Walks in Mattingly
Guest spots and other things worth mentioning:
Faith Village The Devil Walks in Mattingly/Billy Coffey: excerpt
Southern Living: The Daily South Five Things You Need to Know in the South Right Now
The Good Men Project A Father’s Long Shadow:Author Billy Coffey speaks about the effect his father had on his life, and where it’s brought him now
Katdish(dot)net In Like a Lion: Favorite book releases in March
If you’d like to help spread the word about The Devil Walks in Mattingly, you’re invited to join the Launch Team on Facebook. We’d love to have you!